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Grand Western Canal

The Grand Western Canal that remains in water is managed as a country park stretching between Tiverton and the Somerset border.

Things to do nearby

Facts & Stats

11 miles

(18km)

The length of the Grand Western Canal that is navigable.

0 locks

1814

Year completed

Originally envisaged as a grand scheme to connect Bristol and Exeter, only the section between Tiverton and Taunton was built.

From Tiverton to Somerset

Although there are no residential moorings, a number of boats are present permanently on the Grand Western for use by visitors and trailed boats are always welcome. There is a well constructed slipway close to the M5 motorway. Boat permits can be obtained from the council via several local outlets; see the Devon County Council website for prices and details.

Some 300,000 visitors enjoy the wildlife, fishing and many other attributes of the canal and its rural setting in addition to boaters. One of the last remaining horse-drawn boats offers regular trips along the Grand Western between April and September and regular fun-days and other events use its amenities. 

The Friends of the Grand Western Canal supports the Devon Rangers in managing activities, running festivals and generally promoting the Grand Western and conserves and interprets the Somerset section.

Originally envisaged as a grand scheme to connect Bristol and Exeter, only the section between Tiverton and Taunton was built – part as a broad canal and partly as tub boat canal. Construction work began in 1810 and was completed in 1814.

The original planned connection between Bridgwater and Topsham was never realised. The Devon summit section was completed in 1814 and recently celebrated its bicentenary. It was a further 20 years before the isolated water way was finally linked with Taunton with a smaller tub-boat canal using a series of innovative vertical lifts plus an inclined plane to conserve water.  However, traffic was insufficient to maintain the lifts and the Somerset length closed in 1868.  The best-preserved remains of what are thought to be the first commercial boat lifts in the world can be seen from a public footpath at Nynehead, near Wellington.

On 21st November 2012, The Grand Western Canal suffered a serious breach at the Swing embankment which rises nearly 60 feet from surrounding fields at Halberton. Following the breach, Devon County Council pledged £3million to repair, restore and modernise this part of the Grand Western Canal. The section of canal was repaired and reopened in March 2014.

The 2014 IWA National Trailboat Festival event formed the main celebration of the Grand Western Canal’s bicentenary year.

 

The Grand Western is a canal of three parts:  The summit section in Devon remains in water and enjoyed by many users; the Somerset tub-boat section is known mainly for its engineering heritage and artefacts, and the third section from Mid Devon to Topsham was never built, although recent historic research in Topsham has uncovered the planned entry point into the Exe.

Much of the ongoing work on the Devon summit is of a maintenance nature.  However, a serious failure when a 15m high embankment at Halberton overtopped on 21st November 2012 resulted in a £1.5m reconstruction funded by owners Devon County Council.  Since then a significant investment in new sluices and warning systems should prevent any repetition of those dark days!

The Friends of the Grand Western Canal, formerly the Trust, have spent 20 years exploring, conserving and interpreting the Somerset tub-boat canal with the help of IWA working parties.  Extensive archaeological excavation at Nynehead has helped clarify the operation and development of the historic lifts and current clearing at Jaye’s Cutting near Thorne St Margaret is revealing the outline of an exquisite section of the diminutive canal.

Those explorations have encouraged the Friends to embark on an ambitious scheme to reconstruct 2 miles (3km) of the historic water way in Taunton and to build a recreation of one of James Green’s lifts, believed to have been the first commercial boat lifts anywhere in the world, at Silk Mills.  This proposal, dubbed Park ‘n Glide, will form a centrepiece for a centre celebrating the wetlands and waterways of Somerset and the South West.  The scheme has been developed to concept stage and more detailed hydrological and engineering studies will be made in 2018.

Navigation authority

Grand Western Canal Country Park & Local Nature Reserve

Local activities